Harlem police shoot for Tasers

Jim Blaylock/Staff
Harlem Department of Public Safety Chief Jerry Baldwin demonstrates the proper stance with one of the department's new Tasers, which would replace the retractable batons the officers currently use if approved by Harlem City Council.

The Harlem Department of Public Safety could soon gain a new tool to deal with the dangerous - one that comes with an electrical shock.

On Feb. 19, the department plans to ask the Harlem City Council for approval to use Taser guns. It's a device some have had concerns about, but Harlem Chief Jerry Baldwin says it's necessary in law enforcement.

"It is just a wonderful tool for law enforcement," Chief Baldwin said, adding that if approved, the Tasers will immediately go into use and replace the batons his officers now carry.

"It is for officer safety, first and foremost."

The Harlem department would join the Aiken County Sheriff's Office locally in using the devices. Neither the Columbia nor Richmond County sheriff's departments use the devices.

In the 1980s, the Richmond County Sheriff's Office allowed officers to have stun guns, which are different from Tasers.

Tasers fire two probes that pierce the skin through as much as two inches of clothing, transmitting 50,000 volts of electrical pulses into the body in a five-second time frame. Stun guns provide an electrical pulse without shooting probes.

Both Columbia and Richmond counties use OC spray, a pepper spray, or ASP batons for nonlethal uses of force. In Aiken, sheriff's Lt. Michael Frank said there have been no unauthorized uses of their Tasers. Harlem officers also carry OC spray, Chief Baldwin said.

Harlem public safety officials purchased six X26 Tasers late last fall at a cost of $600 each. Officers with the department have received user and Taser International instructor training, including being shocked themselves so they understand the effects.

"The pain was pretty intense," Chief Baldwin said. The device temporarily takes away a person's muscle control.

"Once the five seconds is up, you actually have all use of your entire body. You can get up. You can walk. You can run, do whatever you want to do. That's it, you are back to normal."

According to the Harlem department's proposed Taser policy, the device is only to be used on combative suspects who pose a threat to themselves, the officer or others. Though Chief Baldwin said no medical attention is necessary after being shocked with a Taser, his department's policy requires providing precautionary medical care to anyone shocked.

Reach Preston Sparks and Valerie Rowell at (706) 868-1222 or ccchron@augustachronicle.com.

HOW A TASER WORKS

When an officer pulls the trigger, compressed nitrogen shoots two small probes as far out as about 25 feet at a speed of more than 160 feet per second. The probes, which are connected to the Taser gun by insulated wire, pierce the skin of the subject through as much as two inches of clothing. At that point, an electrical signal transmits through the wires, causing an immediate loss of the person's muscle control during the five-second impulse.